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Lions Roar : March 2007
the world, interacting with others. So much of what we fear, love, crave, push away, and ignore is stored in our physical body. Practicing yoga with a sense of alertness and curiosity can offer a complete program for getting familiar with our habits, creating space between stimuli and response, cultivat- ing skillful means such as patience, and doing all of this in an environment that includes other people. But my observation is that this process does not automati- cally unfold through yoga practice. Without infusing friendly mindfulness into yoga practice, it is typical for overachievers to bring their aggression to the mat, while chronic under- achievers wither from the required exertion. Both extremes are framed by a goal-oriented mentality focused on endpoints such as toe-touching. But once these postures are achieved, then what? The Sanskrit word for posture is asana, which can be trans- lated as “seat” or “to sit with what comes up.” When yogis are invited to relax their agenda and open to the vibrancy of their immediate experience—lively sensations in hamstrings, in- halations massaging the low back, the shifting textures of the mind—they are finally practicing asana. Getting curious about our personal experience (and prac- tice isn’t really practice unless it’s personal), we begin to notice aspects of our process. Am I holding my breath and grasping? Or through full breathing, open eyes, and patient heart, could I slow down and wake up enough to create the conditions for fingers to touch toes? Whatever we notice is fodder for further exploration, both on the mat and after class. This exploration offers us a non-judgmental method of communication within our most primary relationship—that of our own mind and our own body. Just as we place our at- tention on our breath in meditation practice, we can do the same thing in yoga. Of course, when we’re turning upside down and inside out, our breath shifts, but it shifts in life too, whenever we are challenged, excited, bored, or sad. This is how yoga practice becomes fertile ground for cultivating a friendly attitude as we move through our day. Dynamic equilibrium: not too tight, not too loose “IT SEEMS SO EASY—just sit and watch my breath. So why am I still having so many thoughts?” “I’ve been doing yoga for six months and even though I’m trying so hard, I still can’t do a full backbend!” “I had a really good meditation—my mind was finally clear!” “I can’t do that pose. Never, no way!” These are all examples of how we can overexert or under- Whatever body we have, whatever mind we have, we look at it with an open heart and a spirit of exploration. apply ourselves in these practices. In order to have a balanced approach toward our effort, we need to recognize that equilib- rium is dynamic and fluid, not at all a static process. As we go deeper with our practice, we can begin to let go of what we think we are supposed to experience. Many students can do a full backbend after six months, but others—perfectly happy people—never do a backbend. Every meditation ses- sion is going to be different. The key is to cultivate discipline and exertion, and at the same time relax our agenda. DAVID: Once we have started on the path of meditation, there are further refinements to the practice as we go along. In general, the teachings are like a road map or guidebook to a journey we have to undertake ourselves. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 53 2